For sale: Serpentine’s Richard Prince exhibition

All works are from the artist’s studio

LONDON. Every work in the Serpentine Gallery’s Richard Prince show, “Continuation” (on display until 7 September), is drawn from the artist’s personal collection and is available for sale, raising questions about the relationship between publicly-funded galleries and their sponsors.

Richard Prince, one of the world’s most commercially successful artists, is billed as the exhibition’s co-curator in collaboration with the Serpentine, while two of the artist’s dealers—Larry Gagosian and Sadie Coles—are listed on the gallery website as supporters of the exhibition programme. The Gagosian Gallery mounted a concurrent exhibition of Prince’s “Nurse” paintings at its Davies Street space in London (19 June-8 August).

The Serpentine receives 15% of its funding from public sources (£904,499 for 2008-09 from the Arts Council and a small amount from Westminster Council). It raises the remaining £4.5m of its annual budget itself. Most of the funding for the Prince exhibition has come from fashion manufacturer Louis Vuitton. Money from Gagosian and Coles helped cover publication of the accompanying artist’s book, and transport and installation costs for the displays, a common practice for museum shows. The gallery denies there is any conflict of interest, saying “all parties wanted to present a successful show for the benefit of the public”.

“Continuation” is the first major UK show of Prince’s work for over 20 years and consists of 32 works. It follows the New York Guggenheim’s retrospective “Richard Prince: Spiritual America” (which closed in January). Many of the works in that show were loaned by private and public collections.

The Serpentine says it had intended to borrow works from the Guggenheim show, but its dates clashed with the exhibition’s tour (currently at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis until 14 September). The Serpentine therefore decided to “show works drawn entirely from the artist’s collection. In discussion with Richard Prince, the inspiration was the installation in the artist’s own studio.”

Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery and a member of the Museums Association’s ethics committee, says that galleries routinely work with artists and dealers on exhibitions, including co-curation with an artist on displaying studio works. “There is no problem with it, as long as all the relationships are transparent and the independence and integrity of the exhibition curation is maintained,” he said.

The Serpentine says “from time to time it borrow works from the collections of living artists…the Serpentine’s policy is to treat these loans like any others.” It credits sponsors on the walls of the gallery but makes no mention that the works are for sale.

One trade source says that one work has sold since the opening, the iconic Untitled (Cowboy), 1989, for several million pounds. The Serpentine says it has “no confirmed information that any works [have been] sold” and adds that in any case, “the gallery has no arrangement to receive money from exhibition sales”. Richard Prince declined to comment.

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20 Sep 09
14:14 CET


All they had to do was wait for the exhibition to close before selling the works. But not even this. The Arts Council and Westminster City Council must hold the gallery to account.

20 Sep 09
14:14 CET


it's not a secret anymore that Ms Peyton is 'the' art-businnes-shark of public funded galleries in London, of course, very good for keeping the gallery bank account floating, bad for the quality of the gallery program, just completely predictible... Finally , not only the serpentine has patrons and sponsors for those big commercial galleries and so on, check out supporters of spaces like the showroom, or whitechapel, 'dubiuous' 'gallery circle'. in fact, public galleries need money but they donot care to much where the money comes from! and they should. This situation is basically a shameless-promiscuous-incest- marriage of public funded galleries with artdealers... who cares about transparency on this game? there's always someone that 'declined to comment', shame on Mr. Prince, then, the case is closed. by the way, who is the sponsor of the house of V&R at the Barbican? anyone willing to declare? I don't think so.

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